Redeeming the Time Alone (gonna have lots of it now)
Written by Ng Zhi-wen
Originally posted on Facebook, reposted with permission.
It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
The time indeed has come when we now have much more time along.
First the Sunday service was taken away, and for a while we thought we could at last try being a house church and meet in people’s homes. Now even that has to go online.
To make things harder, the latest restrictions announced by our Prime Minister mean that even meeting one on one has to be suspended.
It is the right move to make.
It is also right to mourn such loss.
I have seen the impact… in my church we recently ran an online survey to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on our members’ lives. And it was not surprising to see many members share about the blessing of the cell group (especially when they still meet online), and the stress of social isolation.
Christian fellowship is really, truly, a gift of grace.
As churches seek ways and means to provide alternate platforms for some form of community, there is something else I want to draw attention to…
OUR HEARTS REVEALED
At a recent BGST Webinar on the Coronavirus, two panellists commented that this pandemic is a test for the church. It will reveal things for what they are.
During this time when we cannot meet, each one of us is being tested for the depth of our private devotional life – how we have been walking with the Lord in our solitude.
So much of our spiritual vitality now stands and falls on this.
How will we stand? How will we thrive in this wilderness?
As with any crisis or time of testing, you do not start preparing for it when it happens. Rather, the efficacy of all your training and preparation beforehand (or lack thereof) gets shown up.
So too, if we had not been seeing God as the Center and Lord of our lives and been jealously guarding our walk with Him… this too will be shown up in our response to Covid-19.
I pray many will not falter.
But to all of us, by God’s grace there is always an opportunity for REDEMPTION.
We now have both more time and more reason to seek the Lord in our solitude.
For example, I work from home. Previously I would commute all over the island – from Bedok to Bishan to Boon Lay. No need for that now. I wake up early to send my son to primary school – come this Wednesday this won’t be necessary (yay). All my face to face social meet-ups are cancelled. All of this means more time to myself. For a workaholic society like Singapores’, this is a boon.
But then, there’s more to be done.
I’ve got to cook a lot more, handle work-related adjustments and coordination, and home-based learning is a very hands-on exercise for parents! Not to mention the constant checking up of the latest Covid-19 updates. Following the messages on WhatsApp is now so taxing (I try to ignore most of them).
Tele-commuting also poses other challenges.
It now falls on myself to organize my time, or else the hours and days will just blend into each other – it’s harder to tell the difference between the weekday and the weekend, family time and ‘office’ time. Psychologists who have studied tele-commuting have written about how family-life can conflict with work-life, and vice versa. For many of us, the work computer sits in the bedroom. We who have been so used to compartmentalizing our lives are now grappling with the sudden overlap. It’s both wonderful and scary.
What shall we do in all this time?
THE ANCIENT PATHS: THE FIRST WORKS FOR OUR FIRST LOVE
I believe we are now in a season of reviving the ancient (or timeless) paths of walking with our Lord in solitude, and practicing the contemplative lifestyle.
Martin Luther once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”
For those who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed with so many things to do and with all this time on our hands, God calls us to walk with Him, to sit at His feet first before we can get up and go and do the things of the day.
He calls us to attend to our First Love.
This is about centering (and to keep on re-centering) our lives on our Lord and on His purposes.
What does this mean in practice?
In the midst of this chaos, what I think would really help is to establish a pattern to structure our time.
This will take intentionality and discipline, and even uncomfortable at first, but it will be for our very lives’ sake. I remember the first time this year when I observed a few hours of silent prayer and meditation – what seemed to be a long time turned out to feel just right, and I came out feeling refreshed, ready to head into the next work meeting.
A HOLY STRUCTURE OF TIME: Things to do in our SOLITUDE
Let me suggest in brief a few practices that can become routines or habits of mind in our solitude. I hope they sound familiar to you. I’m no expert, just a fellow sojourner.
Quiet Time. This means setting fixed times to spend time with the Lord in prayer and the Word. It involves observing a period of silence in solitude – for busy Singaporeans, this is a blessing! The Priests, Levites and Psalmists used to observe the morning and evening prayers and offerings (e.g. Psalm 92:2, 1 Chronicles 23:30) – we may do likewise. Many of us who have been doing this already may now find that we have more time for this: e.g. if it used to be 15 minutes daily, it can now stretch to 30 minutes. I know someone who has used the last few months this year to read the Bible cover to cover (about three-quarters through as of now). The sign of having made Quiet Time a treasured discipline is when you feel something doesn’t feel right when you have missed it, and you are drawn to make up for it somehow.
Study and Meditation.
Study is the analytical reading of Scripture. We dig into the meaning of words, check up on contexts, discern God’s message to the original hearers and what it may mean today, and read commentaries. I’ve always figured that thanks to our formal school education we Singaporeans are well suited for this. We can profitably apply study to God’s word.
Meditation is a different approach to reading Scripture. Typically it means taking a short piece of text, and letting your mind and heart dwell on it for a long time – i.e. to reflect on it. In meditation, you are not looking for a message to bring to other people. You are hearing what God wants to say to yourself. You may feast on that same passage throughout the day or the week, and you may be surprised how God may bring it up to your mind.
I would also extend study and meditation to include feasting on all kinds of good books. Some of them may already be on our shelves, books that we had promised ourselves years ago we’d read but never found the time – we have far less excuse for this now to reap the dividends.
Intercession. This is supplication prayer to the Lord for our own needs and the needs of others. Covid-19 presents no shortage of issues to pray for. In intercession, we are invited to lay all our burdens at God’s feet, knowing that He is God. We are also led to pray for people well beyond our usual spheres of concern – prayer is an act of Love, and a prelude to acts of love. But what to pray about? We pray out of what we know about God and of the world – that’s why it’s so important to know God through His Word! And learn to see His hand at work in the world.
You may consider joining in wider prayer movements such as LoveSingapore and the APCCS that have called for Christians to pause and pray at 12pm and 7pm daily concerning Covid-19.
Finding God in all things. I left this for the last, because I think it is both the sweetest and the hardest practice. In the book, “Practicing the Presence of God”, Brother Lawrence said: “The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees before the Blessed Sacrament.” What a profound thought – that God meets us in the ordinary. If we have the eyes to see, and the ears to hear.
A CHAPEL IN TIME
So there you have it, the makings of an urban monastic movement.
I’d like to assume that all Christians know these things already, and it’s time to put them to practice. Well, we have lots of time for this now. But best to get going soon, because it is essential for good living not least in such a time as this.
We can certainly do with some help from others. I trust your local church will make resources available for you.
For myself, this Passion Week I’m participating in an initiative by the Micah Singapore Network, called the 5-Day MC – the Micah Contemplatives. It’s a ‘chapel in time’ for people to meet virtually, and to contemplate silently.
If it works out, we will write about it and recommend it as a practice that churches and Christian groups may adopt and adapt for themselves. [And if you wish to join in, drop me a note].
The Lord bless us all in the Day Alone.
“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.”Ephesians 5:15-16 (KJV)